Citywide Financial Partners adviser Clinton Askew has expressed his frustrations over the difficulty of creating a fair Financial Services Compensation Scheme, but says that working with the regulator has been an overwhelmingly positive experience a year after stepping down as chair of its smaller business practitioner panel.
Reflecting with Money Marketing on his experience as the sole IFA on the panel between 2009 and 2017, Askew says his position back on the outside gives him a new perspective on the breadth of issues the FCA has to deal with, and how advisers’ input has developed now that RDR is no longer the all-consuming regulatory focus.
“In an ideal world there’d be slightly more power [for the SBPP] but in reality the balance is pretty good really,” Askew says. “There were some issues initially where decisions went directly by the panel. But that was more at the end of the FSA, and that hasn’t happened since the FCA has been set up and running.
“When you arrive on day one, others clearly know the systems, the people and the processes and you are not up to speed, but the thing that then surprises you is the breadth of issues you get to deal with on the panel.
“Even though you’re a section specialist, you’re not representing your sector. In some senses, the role is about coming to an understanding that you can make a contribution to sectors that are not necessarily anything to do with your sector, but your opinion is valued because it gives another perspective on something.”
Focus on FSCS reform
Askew says that with access to the senior management of the FCA remaining difficult, the privilege of the panel and its collegiate relationship with the FCA board made for an all-round positive experience, a view he says other panel members also hold.
Askew says the panel will certainly continue to focus its attention on FSCS reform, even though it, as with other topics, will appear on the panel’s radar 12-18 months ahead of when the average adviser has information on it.
He says: “The FSCS levy is a really hard issue to crack because as long as you want consumers to be compensated, the industry has to bear the cost of that. Essentially, it’s a thousand-piece pie, and the way you slice it will please somebody and not please somebody else, which makes it fundamentally difficult to resolve. The issues you deal with, whether European or domestic give an insight into what the challenges are that face the FCA; there are a lot of difficult challenges and there’s often not a right answer.”
On the inner workings of the panel, Askew says there has always been a lot of ground to cover, with the chair responsible for the tough decisions around what issues are most important. The panel, however, enjoys some flexibility in its agenda, with the change in its meeting structure the biggest improvement seen in his years on the inside.
He says: “We were absolutely listened to and I think one of the concerns originally was whether we would get listened to, and I think from the FSA to the FCA, the level of engagement had really ramped up and is taken very seriously.
“The level of engagement we have had between everyone, even the board, was enormous. The nature of the beast is that while the board and the senior management listen to your views, they may take it on and if they do they do, but if they don’t they don’t, even if you’re putting forward a very strong argument. You have to respect that even though you are there as a panel that has to be listened to, you still have no executive decision making.”
Acting in sector’s best interest
For advisers on the outside, Askew says smaller firms continue to struggle with the consistent stream of papers and information produced by the FCA, but can confidently expect the panel to be acting in the best interest of the wider sector.
He says: “Keeping on top of regulation and keeping abreast of everything is very difficult to do. Most firms these days hopefully realise that what we have now is a more professional, better educated, better trained panel to work around issues. It’s generally been good for consumers and I think it’s been good for the profession.”
Looking forward, Askew hopes for a strong female presence on the panel to provide greater diversity, particularly as the Financial Advice Market Review progresses.
He says: “I’d like to see a woman as the chair of the panel. There are some really talented people out there and the organisation is a bit too male-dominated, which is the difficulty with the way the sectors are. It is a question of whether there are people around at the right point in time within the sectors who will put their hands up. I think the panel and the sector are the unsung heroes and do an amazing job of keeping the show on the road.
“We could do with some greater clarity around the FAMR in the long run and if I was the chair today I’d really be looking at it and thinking about how effective the FAMR review has been in terms of advice being radically changed.”